Master of None and the Nice Guy Delusion

Last month, Master of None returned to Netflix for a second season. Aziz Ansari’s Dev had left New York heartbroken after a pretty heavy break-up, to embark on a pasta making apprenticeship in Modena, Italy. Master of None had been a bit of a revelation in terms of it’s frank and honest discussions about gender, relationships, representation, immigration and the media. So I have to say, I was pretty excited when it got renewed, and spent most of the year counting down the days until it came back. So you have to believe me when I say it absolutely pains me to write this article about how Master of None has developed a Nice Guy issue.

Before I start, let me just say that there are many highlights of season 2 which include and are not limited to: Arno and Dev’s beautiful friendship (showing that men can have emotional connections with each other), the difficult sexual assault story-line with Chef Jeff, the interrogation of modern app-based dating and every scene in which Aziz Ansari’s real life parents star as Dev’s parents.

It was ‘Thanksgiving’ however, which rated far above and beyond the rest of the series, for me. The episode is self contained and takes place in Denise’s house, Dev’s best friend (played by Lena Waithe), showing several thanksgiving dinners which span through their childhood. Not only did we get a charming insight into the origins of Denise and Dev’s friendship, we also were invited to understand Denise’s character better. In half an hour, Master of None introduced us to her family, her childhood, her early relationships and showed us her struggle with her mother with regards to her sexuality. In the rest of the series, Denise has been a hilariously funny and down to earth ‘sidekick’ for Dev, and it was satisfying to see Denise get a narrative arc of her own. Not only do we rarely get to see black or lesbian stories told on TV, but together? Unheard of. For this, Master of None has done itself proud.

What let it down though? Well, for all of Dev’s allyship and good intentions, it turns out that he is actually a “Nice Guy”. A man who talks the talk and claims to be a feminist, but inadvertently undermines and objectifies women all the same.

As explained by Nicole Froio at Bitch Media, Master of None doesn’t seem to be able to create believable or interesting female characters. This is, of course, with the exception of Denise but Lena Waithe co-wrote Denise’s episode with Aziz Ansari, so this goes some way to explaining why Denise is a well rounded and interesting character. I actually didn’t pick up on Master of None’s women problem until season 2, where the issue became largely apparent.

In ‘First Date’ we see Dev going on the same date with a number of different women. We never get the opportunity to know them at all (not like we know Dev), and they all come across as either shallow, opportunistic, not available, too available or generally not nice. They are nothing more than bodies, with no backstories and nothing to say for themselves. They are there for Dev to date and dismiss, primarily. In fact, the only women that Dev interacts with at all in a social setting are his mother, his dates and Denise (who is pointedly not a love interest as she is gay). 

Which brings me nicely onto the character of Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). Dev meets Francesca when he is in Italy, learning how to make pasta in her Grandmother’s cafe. Francesca and Dev strike up a friendship and remain in contact when he goes back to the States, prompting her to get in touch when she comes over with fiance Pino for a visit. To begin with Francesca and Dev are just friends, but their relationships slowly evolves into something more. Dev develops feelings for her, and interprets every conversation and moment  with Francesca as a sign that she too is interested in pursuing a relationship. She never out-rightly says that she is unhappy with Pino, or that she wants to take things further with Dev. Eventually the tension that has built between them comes to a head and, when Francesca says that she cannot pursue anything with Dev, he accuses her of using him.

Without having any regard for her feelings or the complicity of the matter at hand, Dev explodes – telling Francesca that she simply wanted someone to experiment with, as the only man she has ever been with is Pino. It’s a cliche at best, and completely misogynistic at worst, for Dev to assume that Francesca hasn’t really explored her sexuality or her desires because she has only slept with one person. In one respect it makes her even more desirable because of her ‘virginal’ past, but it also is implied that Dev thinks he knows more about sex and relationships than she does. Dev categorically believes that he deserves this relationship with Francesca just because he is a Nice Guy,  even though she tells him no.

Even without this incredibly simplified view on relationships, Dev also reduces Francesca to an object of desire. Master of None paints her as a quirky but loveable, feminine yet ‘one of the lads’ type. Sounds suspiciously like a manic-pixie-dream-girl to me. Francesca encompasses every element of Amy’s speech in Gone Girl (even though I immensely dislike the film, it’s got a point). Francesca’s only purpose in the series is to be pretty and unattainable – basically to be the girl of Dev’s dreams, as explained over at Bustle by EJ Dickson. She dances round Dev’s kitchen to Italian music in his shirt, she’s only ever had one partner, she like classical films, she drinks beer and she’s immeasurably pretty. I can’t of a single thing about Francesca that isn’t skewed by the way that Dev objectifies her.

It’s a real shame because Ansari himself has, on numerous occasions, talked about feminism and the basic representation of women in TV. Master of None has one of the best records for diversity on TV, almost all of the characters are POC and they don’t fall back on just using white background artists like the vast majority of shows.

I suppose my dilemma is that it seems as if the show and Ansari are advocating for Dev’s behaviour. There is always a very fine line when the showrunner and creator is also playing the main character in a series – where does reality end? Is Master of None subtly critiquing Dev’s behaviour? Or is it failing to recognise Dev’s manipulative tactics? It’s difficult to know, and for that reason it’s likely that we are supposed to side with Dev, which I just cannot get on board with. Master of None has succeeded in so many areas, but more work is clearly needed here.

 

 

ps:

Perhaps this is also a very personal gripe,but I also got slightly annoyed with the complete lack of understanding of Europe and Italy – supermarkets and Tinder are a thing in Europe guys! I know it’s a tiny thing but it’s just a reminder that either no-one has bothered to check, and that Americans think no-where else in the world is as ‘sophisticated’ as them. It’s just lazy.

 

 

If You’re Not Already Watching, You Should Be: Aziz Ansari’s Master of None

Or, my alternative title for this post: Feminism 101, Immigration, Defying Racism & The Best Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Get: Master of None is Perfection and You Should Be Watching it Right Now Continue reading “If You’re Not Already Watching, You Should Be: Aziz Ansari’s Master of None”

8 Reasons You Should Be Watching Parks & Recreation

Parks and Recreation is a fantastic show. If you aren’t watching it, you should be. If you are watching it then good job. And if you’ve finished watching it then go back to season one and start that baby all over again. Seriously, I’m on my fourth re watch now and it only gets funnier and more excellent each time.

I wanted to write an in depth essay about the merits and achievements of Parks and Rec, something meaningful and articulate. Instead, I have decided that the best way of showcasing how great it is, is just to give you the definitive list of reasons why you should all be watching Parks and Recreation.

1) Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler

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Parks & Rec is centred around a small town local government parks department representative called Leslie Knope. Leslie has enormous amounts of ambition, loves waffles, friends and work (in that order) and seriously enjoys her job. She’s a wonderful friend to all, completely optimistic about everything and an out and proud feminist (“if I had to have a strippers name it would be equality”).

What makes Leslie different to a lot of female characters on television is not that she is driven and succeeds. In fact, she doesn’t even always succeed, for example (spoiler alert) getting voted out of office in season 6. The thing about Leslie is that she takes her failures on the chin and always makes the best out of a bad situation. She is never embarrassed by them and she always motivates herself to do better.

Basically, she is a well rounded woman who has flaws like the rest of us. It is a rarity to see women, especially in comedy, with these character traits. Leslie is strong and independent, but she is also human and relies on the people around her too.

2)  Female Friendships

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Speaking of Leslie’s support network, female friendship is something which Parks and Recreation  excels in. From Ann and Leslie’s beautiful friendship to Leslie’s mentoring of April (and April secretly loving it) Parks and Rec really gets the whole sisterhood thing. The women on the show constantly support each other, respect each other and they never argue about boys (with the possible minor exception of Ann and April…damn you Andy). Leslie’s Galentines Day tradition really underscores this incredibly written portrayal of female friendship (Valentines Day for girl-friends = Galentines Day).

 Parks also recognises that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but even when Ann and Leslie have a full blow snakejuice fuelled argument – they both realize they are wrong and reconcile together;  their friendship means more than their pride.

3)  Healthy relationships

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Another type of relationship which Parks and Recreation wins at is the romantic kind. Throughout the series, most of the main characters get into serious and not-so-serious relationships both with each other and guest characters. Whilst each relationship is incredibly different (can’t really compare Andy & April to Chris & Ann) they are all portrayed as healthy and loving. In season 2, Ron’s ex wife Tammy shows up and they rekindle (if you can use that word) their affair. It quickly becomes apparent that, whilst incredibly funny, their relationship is damaging to Ron and his happiness. The parks department all support Ron in breaking up with Tammy, none more than Leslie and in the end they prevail. Parks constantly shows the importance of friendship in relationships, as well as respect and trust.

Also if you don’t ship Ben and Leslie then what are you doing with your life?

4) Supporting Cast

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Never have I watched a show where I love every single member of the supporting cast. I *literally* cannot pick a favourite character. They are all well rounded, funny, interesting people with their own views of the world. They band together like a little family, one that I think we would all love to be a part of. The creators of the show spent so much time developing all of the characters individually, and it’s a unique touch that makes Parks and Rec that much more special.

 

5) Chris Pratt

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Okay, I do not have a favourite but Andy Dwyer/Chris Pratt deserves his own shoutout. Andy is hilarious, simple, caring and loyal. He was only supposed to be in the first season, and after splitting up with Ann – his character was supposed to leave Pawnee forever. Could you imagine? I for one can’t envision an Andy Dwyer-less Parks and Rec and thank goodness neither could Mike Schur and co. Andy has a fantastic heart, and what makes him even greater is that some of his best lines were improvised by Pratt onset.

 

6) It started life as an Office spin off but is wayyyyyyyyyyy better *

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Parks and Recreation started life as an Office (US) spinoff. As much as I like The Office, I am eternally grateful that Parks got it’s own path for television. The thing is, Parks and Rec is so much better than The Office. Instead of downcast characters that spend all day winding each other up and tearing each other down, Parks and Rec is filled with positivity and characters who are always supportive of each other. The humour in Parks comes from the situations that the Parks department find themselves in, not from chastising each other (apart from Jerry/Larry/Gary). Even then, we aren’t laughing at Jerry because we know that he has a beautiful wife and a massive penis (spoiler!)

 

7) Celebrity Cameos

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Celebrity cameos are far and few between but when they happen, they are amazing. It’s not the definitive reason to watch the show but seeing Jon Hamm as the office intern, and watching Leslie meeting Michelle Obama are certainly in my top 10 TV moments ever.

8) You will feel like part of the show

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Due to the way in which Parks and Recreation is filmed, mockumentary style with minimal lighting/staging, the characters really get a chance to interact with the camera in their own ways. From Tom Haverford’s surprised grin to Ben Wyatt’s exasperated plea for help, it helps us get a better insight into these characters thoughts and feelings. It also makes us feel like Leslie and the gang are talking TO us rather than around us. It’s beautiful.

The seventh season is currently airing so you still have time to catch seasons 1 – 6 on Netflix before the finale!

* DISCLAIMER I do like The Office ! You have to admit, it just isn’t Parks is it?